Tag Archives: Sandra Bullock

Down & Dirty

Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton make politics personal in ‘Crisis

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

Our Brand is Crisis

Starring Sandra Bullock & Billy Bob Thornton

Directed by David Gordon Green

R

“I can convince myself of many things, if the price is right,” says Sandra Bullock’s character, “Calamity Jane” Bodine, in Our Brand is Crisis.

Jane is pretty good at convincing other people, too. That’s why the formerly formidable campaign strategist is lured out of early retirement to help an unpopular Bolivian president in an upcoming election—by convincing the reluctant public, through whatever means necessary, that they should vote for him.

But this battle’s not just political, it’s also personal: Bodine has to match wits with an old nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who’s been hired to strategize for the other side.

It’s based on things that went down at a real 2002 Bolivian election, which was chronicled in an award-winning 2005 documentary of the same name. Thornton’s character is a movie remold of former hardball strategist James Carville, who appeared as himself in the original film. Bullock’s character—a part originally written for a male—is an amalgam of several other actual people.

OUR BRAND IS CRISISBullock and Thornton provide the movie’s real spark; it’s too bad there’s not more of it, and more of them, to help the whole thing catch fire. There’s a murky, turbulent history between Bodine and Candy that we never fully understand, just one of several things the movie doesn’t make clear. But the deft, unfussy way the two characters spar and parry, in guarded conversations and piercing silences, are artful reminders of just how these two pros can make the most of their screen time.

Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie are also aboard as Calamity Jane’s team members. Zoe Kazan plays a young dirty-tricks research wonk brought in to turn up the heat when things shift into true “crisis” overdrive.

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

Zoe Kazan

George Clooney is one of the producers. The director, David Gordon Green, has a wide-ranging resume that includes the stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness. Peter Straughan, who provided the screenplay, is also the writer of the espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The movie has some solid DNA, but it never seems to know whether it wants to make us think, make us chuckle or make us sad. Is it political parody with heart, a satire that jabs with its funny bone, or a south-of-the-border rom-com based on real headlines? (The biggest  audience response, for what it’s worth, comes from Bullock’s bare buttocks hanging out an open bus window.)

If you’re a political junkie, this is your time of year. The presidential candidate debates make for riveting, sometimes-outrageous TV, and shows like The Good WifeScandalVeep and the new Agent X take viewers inside the heated (fictionalized) heavings of Washington, D.C. Our Brand is Crisis brings up some timely points about what it takes to mount—and win—a campaign.

But is anyone surprised that politics plays dirty? That strategists can be snake-oil salesmen who convince people to buy things they don’t need, to elect leaders who may not have their best interests in mind? That America exports its will and influence to other parts of the world?

After her first meeting with the Bolivian president, Bodine realizes what a daunting job she signed on for, and she wearily notes that he “doesn’t smell like a winner.” Unfortunately, despite Sandra and Billy Bob, neither does this.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Yellow Fellows

‘Minions’ breaks out ‘Despicable’ sidekicks for solo shenanigans

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Starring Sandra Bullock & Jon Hamm

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda

PG

Their sideline shenanigans got some of the biggest laughs in Despicable Me (2010) and its 2013 sequel. Now the minions, those little nubby, yellow, evil-enabling assistants, headline their own madcap spinoff about their long, crazy quest to find the “most despicable master” of all to serve.

And what a quest—it begins, we find out (as guided by the narration of Geoffrey Rush) in primordial ooze and quickly bops through various incidents across the centuries as the minions seek out a succession of “bad guys” from dinosaurs and Dracula to an Egyptian pharaoh, Napoleon and an abominable snowman. But they always bungle things, with comically disastrous consequences.

So they keep moving, throughout the centuries and around the globe, until a trio of minion explorers (Kevin, Bob and Stuart) lands in New York City in 1968. Then things shift into comedic high gear as directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda riff on the vibrant sights and sounds of the era (the movie has a killer soundtrack of groovy late-’60s tunes) and serve up a buffet of pop-cultural cleverness for all ages.

2421_FPF2_00051RWhen Kevin, Bob and Stuart see a late-night TV ad for Villain-Con, an upcoming Comic-Con-like convocation of baddies, they know they have to hook up with event’s headliner, the queen of mean, Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock).

The minions have always had an instant appeal to kids, for obvious reasons: They look like wobbly toddlers, they speak gibberish (a goo-goo gush of Euro-babble, provided by director Coffin) and there’s an innate goodness and innocence underneath whatever “bad” they might otherwise be trying to do. They’re guaranteed laughs from children by just walking onto the screen.

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Sandra Bullock provides the voice of supervillain Scarlett Overkill.

But there’s so much more to the humor here; parents will be greatly entertained by the vocal performances of Bullock as the preening villainess (which some major unresolved childhood issues); Jon Hamm as her groovy spy-gadget-guru husband; and Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as a bank-robbing mom and pop.

The plot zips and zings through dozens of silly sight gags, especially when things move to England and a scheme to steal the queen’s crown. A minion on stilt-like, spy-suit extension legs runs amok in the streets of London to the tune of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Two minions flee a buzzing bee round and round on a cathedral chandelier, and with every frantic lap the fixture unscrews more and more. Rays from a “hypno hat” cause a trio of royal guards strip down to their undies—and break into a gonzo chorus from the musical Hair. The minions intrude on The Beatles’ photo shoot for the cover of Abbey Road.

Stay for a closing-credits montage that brings the minions full circle with Gru (Steve Carell), their master in the two Despicible movies—and a delightful ensemble treat from the whole cast.

At times it made me think of what the Three Stooges would be like if Moe, Larry and Curly were recast for the modern age as pint-size, goggle-wearing, butter-hued niblets. It may not be high humor, but boy, it sure made me laugh.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Far Out

Sandra Bullock is a knockout in thrilling outer-space drama 

Gravity

Gravity

Blu-ray +DVD + Digital Bonus Pack $35.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Sandra Bullock stars in this technically dazzling Oscar-nominated thriller as a NASA medical engineer thrown into a terrifying struggle to survive after her first space shuttle mission suddenly erupts in catastrophe. George Clooney’s also along for some of the ride, but this is Bullock’s show all the way as her character stares down the blackness of the cold, indifferent, infinite void of the cosmos—and wonders how she can possibly get home.  Bonus content includes behind-the-scenes features, a short film by director Jonás Cuarón, and a look at the groundbreaking special effects, which create the most realistic, believable scenes of bodies and other “weightless” objects bobbing, bouncing, twirling, hurtling, and colliding ever depicted on screen.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Hot & Bothered

Bullock, McCarthy buddy up as mismatched police partners

TheHeat-1The Heat

DVD $29.98, Blu-ray $39.99 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

Playing a pair of totally mismatched police partners, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy bring a riotously fresh comedic chemistry to this female variation of Hollywood’s familiar “buddy comedy.” Bridesmaids director Paul Feig knows that gals can be just as funny—and just as raunchy—as guys, and The Heat turns up the grown-up tee-hees just about as far as they can go for an R rating. Bonus features include several making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes, hilarious commentary (with one track option from the commentators of Mystery Science Theater 3000) and a rundown of the fabulous supporting cast.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Out of This World

Stunning, spectacular ‘Gravity’ shoots for the stars—and gets there

GRAVITYGravity

Starring Sandra Bullock & George Clooney

Directed by Alfonso Cuaròn

PG-13, 90 min.

Released Oct. 4, 2013

Wow—that’s the single best word I can think of to describe this truly awesome piece of moviemaking, which has instantly vaulted to the top of my list of the year’s best films.

Marooned in space after the destruction of their craft, two American astronauts suddenly find themselves on a new mission of survival.

That’s a simple enough premise, but Gravity turns its into something at once monumental and sublime, slicing to the core of our basic fears and primal issues about death and dying, isolation, abandonment and spiritual longing, and the general cosmic inhospitality and indifference that greets humans whenever we venture outside the comfort zone of the earthly place we call home.

It’s also one of the most technically dazzling spectacles to ever grace the screen, an eye-popping, digital/live-action marvel that makes the senses reel with new levels of sophistication in its groundbreaking special effects that leave most other films looking like they’re lagging light years behind.

GRAVITYAs it begins, we meet veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and his space shuttle’s medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a newcomer on her first mission. In a breathtaking, 15-minute sequence during which the camera never breaks away, we see Dr. Stone working outside the docked shuttle on the Hubble telescope, and Kowalski whisking around leisurely with his jetpack, cracking jokes with Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris, a nice nod to another astronaut flick, The Right Stuff), when they receive some alarming news: A shower of shrapnel from a detonated Soviet satellite is speeding directly at them, at 25,000 miles per hour.

But the warning comes too late: The cloud of space junk, catapulted by centrifugal force as it orbits the Earth, plows into the shuttle, rendering it useless—and sending Dr. Stone flying out into the inky, star-flecked blackness, adrift, detached and alone.

And that’s just the beginning!

Other things happen—a lot of things. But revealing more would rob you of the many edge-of-your-seat surprises Gravity has in store, both visually and thematically, in the gripping story written by director Alfonso Cuaròn and his son, Jonás. Suffice it to say, as Bullock’s character does at one point, it’s “one hell of a ride.”

Back in 2006, Cuaròn made critics giddy with the tracking shots he used in Children of Men, a grungy futuristic fable that became known for a couple of lengthy, carefully executed segments in which the camera stayed with the action and characters, without cutting away, for several long, protracted moments. Those shots were über-cool, but they’re nothing compared with what the director pulls off here, in which his camera goes places, and does things, that are nothing short of jaw-dropping.

GRAVITY

You’ll not only feel like you’re floating in space, you’ll feel like you’re inside Sandra Bullock’s space helmet. (In one amazing slow zoom, the camera “takes you along” as it seems to magically penetrate the glass of her visor from the outside, turn around, and begin looking out—all as she’s turning head over heels, weightless.)

This is one of Bullock’s best performances, without a doubt; reserve her a seat down front now at this year’s Oscars. It’s one of the most dazzling-looking films you’ll ever have the opportunity to see, especially if you see it in 3-D, or better yet, in 3-D and IMAX—believe every bit of the hype. It’s a masterful achievement of technique and craftsmanship, creating what has to be the most realistic “in space” experience ever for any motion picture.

And its final scene is a brilliant cinematic brushstroke of pure movie poetry that blends heaven and Earth, rebirth and renewal, past, present and future, and a poignant reminder of the Newtonian universal constant from which the film takes its title.

In almost every way, Gravity is out of this world.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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